“I think it’s about wiping away a little bit of the fame and hardness that comes with the celebrity lifestyle. It’s to be able to humanize their story, who they are at their core,” Kissi told HuffPost. “Through my photography, I really just wish to show a multilayered view of who these people are outside of what we’ve already seen.”
“I think the blueprint has just been about telling the stories that feel near and dear to me, and especially Black and brown stories. The diasporas have always been important,” Kissi said. “Wherever our stories haven’t been told fully — and been told with and from a point of depth — I wanted to always just have a place to be able to do that from a different perspective that felt full, that felt vast, that felt like our stories are permanent.”
Kissi got his start in the industry at the age of 18, when he launched men’s style blog Street Etiquette with childhood friend Travis Gumbs. Street Etiquette showcased “style through storytelling” by featuring photos of Black men with a chic and sharp aesthetic. The blog became known for its use of saturation and high contrast to show Black men pushing the boundaries of style. Eventually, the co-founders turned Street Etiquette into a creative agency and gained clients such as Apple and Adidas.
In 2016, Kissi launched Tonl, a stock photography company, with Karen Okonkwo as his business partner. Their mission? To provide an alternative to agencies like Getty Photos that too often fail to showcase a diverse range of photo options. Tonl features people of all skin complexions and lifestyles, and aims to circulate “images that feel and look like us from front to back,” Kissi said. Google and Facebook have used Tonl’s database to source photos for their content.
Now, Kissi is dancing with the role of director. He made his directorial debut with The New York Times for a video project on Sag Harbor, New York, called “A Beach Of Our Own.” For the project, he talked to Black families who had lived in the beachfront properties for decades. He also contributed to the Ghana portion of Beyoncé’s “Black Is King” film, which debuted on Disney+ on July 31.
“Photography is beautiful because it makes you appreciate the stillness of life, and film is beautiful because it makes you appreciate the movement in life,” Kissi said. “The curiosity to tell stories from different vantage points, the curiosity to meet different people, that’s always just been a feeling I’ve chased throughout the years.”
This content was originally published here.